Innovative technology – crossing into the mainstream

Paul Boughton

For both manufacturers and end-users alike, the point at which a technology moves from innovation into mainstream is of fundamental importance to their business.

From the manufacturer’s point of view, at its simplest it means the difference between business success and failure – a significant number of novel technologies never achieve broad market penetration. For the potential customer and end-user, it often represents the point at which an unproven technology which delivers significant benefits and which has been excluded largely because they cannot afford to take the risk of incorporating it in their operational processes, finally becomes a viable proposition.

For the manufacturer, developing an innovative technology, getting it to market, proving that it works and gaining mainstream acceptance and validation can be a formidable challenge. Many novel ideas have fallen at various hurdles: witness Clive Sinclair’s revolutionary ZX spectrum home computer and C5 electric car – brilliant ideas which were years ahead of their time but which failed to gain significant market penetration.

Meanwhile, their potential customers are more often than not treading the line between working with tried and tested technology and identifying the upcoming technologies which will make a real difference to the efficiency of their processes or the bottom line.

Generally speaking, most managers in industry can’t afford and don’t want to be the guinea pig. They are looking to minimise their financial and operational risk – but at the same time they don’t want to trail behind their competitors who may have gained a significant competitive advantage by adopting new technologies ahead of them. Playing catch-up can be a slow process.

Geoffrey A Moore’s classic book “Crossing the Chasm, Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers” is widely accepted as the bible for bringing cutting-edge products to progressively larger markets. In it, he explores the chasm between the “early adopter/ technology enthusiast” purchasers and the “early majority/pragmatist” purchasers of innovative products.

He describes early adopters as visionaries "who have the insight to match an emerging technology to a strategic opportunity”. In contrast, the early majority are pragmatists. "They care about the company they are buying from, the quality of the product they are buying, the infrastructure of supporting products and system interfaces, and the reliability of the service they are going to get.”

Pragamatists tend to be 'vertically' oriented, meaning that they communicate more with others like themselves within their own industry than do technology enthusiasts and early adopters. It is very difficult to break into a new industry selling to pragmatists. Pragmatists won't buy from you until you are established, yet you can't get established until they buy from you.

Energy efficiency specialists Maxsys has hands-on experience of achieving acceptance for an innovative technology in the wider marketplace.

Development of the Maxsys fuel treatment system, a now proven technology which improves fuel efficiency with a corresponding reduction in carbon emissions, began in 1992 following the Rio earth summit (Fig. 1).

Over the next decade numerous case studies with commercial customers were carried out in collaboration with the Universities of Brunel and Birmingham in England. However, the technology was not patented until 2003 and the company started full commercial roll out soon after. Today the fuel system is an award winning environmental technology used all over Europe and throughout a wide range of industry sectors. Businesses such as Findus, Masterfoods, Ciba Speciality Chemicals and Mondi Packaging, are just some of the well-known names to have bought Maxsys’ energy saving technology to improve their combustion processes.

So at what point did this innovative technology become accepted and mainstream?
Paul Finnegan, commercial director of Maxsys, says the purchase of the system by such organisations has played a crucial role in its adoption by industry and being seen as proven as delivering.

“As more companies bought the product we began to see accelerating levels of interest – quite simply this independent third party validation by such established companies is proof for many potential customers that it works, it does exactly what it says on the packet.”

According to Moore, establishing a strong word-of-mouth reputation among buyers is one of the keys for breaking into a new market and gaining broad marketplace acceptance. However, this has to be in conjunction with a range of other activities, including benchmarks, product reviews, design wins, trade press coverage, endorsements, technology press coverage, third-party support, standards certification, applications proliferation and vertical press coverage, all of which played a part in how Maxsys brought its technology to market.

Comments Finnegan, “It’s not rocket science. We understand that our customers are in business primarily to make profits and conduct their business activities as efficiently as possible. They can’t afford to take risks or act as the testbed. The peace of mind factor plays a strong role and the intial uptake of innovative technology by leading companies has a crucial role to play in this. Where they lead, others have now started to follow.”

He concluded: “In my opinion the crucial cross-over point from being an innovative technolgy to becoming a mainstream product has been the adoption of our technology by blue chip companies. We have reference case studies and independent third-party validation which are practical demonstrations that it works. It might have taken us five years to see the benefits but as more companies see the benefits uptake is accelerating. Maxsys has been able to demonstrate that the technology is now proven and demonstrable.

Elaine Coles, is Head of Research at IMS Consulting

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